Glenn Reynolds has responded by blog and email. Seems I got some ‘splainin’ to do.
The bottom line first, then the details for anyone curious:
1. I was wrong to accuse Kopel and Reynolds of deliberately sending their readers down a broken link.
2. The NRO story is more than a year old.
3. Shortly after it was published, Glenn blogged an update (scroll up about one screen to find it) saying that Levitt had denied the charge, and supplying some of Levitt’s exculpatory evidence, but not retracting the charge. I failed to find that, and therefore did not mention it.
4. I still think the NRO story was shabby journalism: it made a wild, personally damaging charge based on a single anonymous source, it failed to check that charge with its subject to allow a comment, and it misrepresented the document it quoted from by selective quotation and actual misquotation. Nor was it ever updated with links to the denial and the evidence supporting it.
5. Calling for White House interference with a National Academy panel ought to be an extraordinary step.
6. There’s been some discussion about whether blogging is journalism. My answer is a clear “yes.” (Eugene Volokh has posted on the legal aspects of the question, though I can’t find the link.) But the ethical rules have to be the same; why should they be different? Anonymous allegations are to be treated with care. Once a charge has been credibly denied, it’s wrong to repeat it without noting the denial and the evidence.
[Of course NRO isn’t blogging; that’s journalism proper, and should be held to professional standards, including the duty to check with a subject before reporting a possibly defamatory charge. I think the technical term for failure to do so is “actual malice.” No doubt Eugene will correct me if I’m wrong.]
Now the play-by-play: (Are you sure you don’t have anything better to do with your time?)
1. The NRO piece was published last August, and linked to on Instapundit.
2. Levitt complained by email, and Glenn blogged about that, acknowledging that Levitt had published an op-ed pointing out that swimming pools were more dangerous to children than guns, a comparison hardly likely to occur to an anti-gun zealot. But Glenn also reported that the anonymous source stood behind the charge.
3. A year went by.
4. Brad DeLong posted something about stacked scientific advisory panels at HHS.
5. Glenn responded that stacking was wrong, but not new, and linked to his year-old NRO piece with Kopel but not to his own follow-up.
6. Brad DeLong exploded about the slander aimed at Levitt, who is a nice guy as well as being, in Brad’s words, “effing brilliant.” He either didn’t notice the date or didn’t think it relevant. He linked to the story itself and not to the Instapundit mention of it, which seems reasonable to me but, as Glenn points out, means that Brad’s readers won’t catch the updates. He didn’t link to the Instapundit post with Levitt’s denial, presumably because he didn’t know about it, Glenn not having mentioned it in citing the NRO piece.
7. I saw Brad’s piece, searched Instapundit for “Levitt” and found nothing, posted as below, and emailed Glenn with a heads-up and offer to correct if I’d gotten something wrong.
8. I had, so I have.
Glenn Reynolds, having read my criticism, reread the NRO piece, and looked at the NAS document as I linked to it, is convinced that the document must have changed. Referring to the language about defensive gun uses and the Second Amendment, he writes:
“Well, it sure didn’t have that stuff before. I looked at the page when we did the article, and I’m sure I would have noticed *that.* And I wouldn’t have left it out, and I’m sure Dave wouldn’t either.”
He also reports having checked with Dave Kopel, whose memory is the same as his. Neither kept a copy of the original document.
I’ve checked with a member of the panel, who says it’s quite possible that the document (known in NAS-speak as the “charge”) might have changed; frequently the first thing a panel does, once it’s assembled, is to decide that its charge needs improvement. He’s checking to see if that happened in this case, and if the old document still exists. If it does, I will link to it. Even if it doesn’t, there’s no reason to doubt Glenn’s word on this point. So I withdraw my accusation that Kopel and Reynolds intentionally misrepresented the document they saw.
STILL FURTHER UPDATE:
My friend on the NAS gun panel has checked with the relevant NAS official, who reports that the sentences in question were in the original proposal. That leaves it a mystery what document Kopel and Reynolds might have seen. Chalk it up to the perils of cyberspace, where Orwell’s “memory hole” operates naturally and automatically, without even a Winston Smith to remember what might have gone down it.
Glenn Reynolds has updated his account as well.